A significant strategy of inward revolution drawn from the gospels
In my view, the central theme of Christianity in its original form is a radical change of consciousness. That probably sounds too modern but I cannot phrase it any other way.
It is not so much about the miracles of Jesus, or even his dramatic life, but a significant strategy drawn from the inward revolution, which makes Christianity special for someone who is also familiar with other traditions and lives in the present moment.
Revolution is, in this context, the right word because it is about a shift in power; the soul taking over from the ego. Such a power shift would come about through the active practice of compassion, which in the original meaning of Christianity was placed above every other religious practice. A characteristic wisdom of the gospels is this: when you want to bring your gift to the altar and you remember that your brother hates you, then keep your gift, go and reconcile yourself first with your brother and then come back and offer your gift.
On the surface, this may seem an idealistic kindness. But in the context of the gospels, charity has a spiritual meaning. This differs from the compassion that is important in other traditions. According to the gospels, charity is equal to the love of God because the latter cannot exist without the former.
The relationship between the two commandments of love – the love for God and charity – is made very clear. If charity is not rooted in spirituality, it is ornamental. Without a conscious and permanent practice, the foundation is as solid as a house of cards.
Obstruction of freedom and love
Love and freedom are the main values of life in all traditions. What is special about the teachings of Christianity, is that both values have a place in daily life, through acts of philanthropy: giving away, parting with things, sharing, forgiving… In short, acts that are contrary to the needs of the ego. Without naming the ego as such – as the word did not yet exist – Christianity, in its original form, was referring to this part of the personality as an inbuilt obstruction of freedom and love, and hence also for spiritual growth.
In working out the relationship between breaking down the boundaries of the ego and discovering new spiritual dimensions, everything depends on the quality of the effort. We have already seen what happens if we use the phrases ‘devil’, ‘sin’, ‘the fall’, ‘repentance’, and ‘hell’. We will have to see how far we can get using modern language, contemporary psychological insights and – in the spirit of our time – the moderation of truths determined by tradition.
On any spiritual path, you are generally told to work on the ego. There is an interest in Eastern gurus and spiritual teachers who claim to know how to reach beyond the boundaries of the ego. These teachers often created frustrating, hurtful or even humiliating situations in order to strip the ego of its pride.
The stories from people who have had such experiences show that simulated environments in ashrams or spiritual centers actually have a lot in common with the family setting and personal relationships. Spiritual practice and compassion can, therefore, also start at home.
Moving beyond the boundaries of the ego can begin with charity. Daily charity can be a spiritual practice, just like daily meditation.
I remember my first vipassana meditation lesson – in fact, it wasn’t much of a ‘lesson’. The teacher instructed us to do one thing only: focus on the breath. ‘Vipassana’ means ‘insight’, and can be a real disappointment for those who expect insight to be anything more than an exploration of the consciousness.
The observation of the physical breath is a meaningless and monotonous process. This is why your awareness tends to leave the breath. Thoughts that arise seem much more exciting than focusing your awareness on inhalations and exhalations, but you are not supposed to pay those thoughts any attention. However, observation of the breath is only a tool for exploring the inner power struggle. Meditation becomes interesting once you realize that it is actually all about observing this inner power struggle.